That message was received loud and clear by members of the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) at its annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Amid the conference — a first for me — where public relations professionals, green industry editors and corporate communicators gathered to network, socialize and pat each other on the back for a year’s worth of jobs well done, the strangest thing happened: I actually learned something.
A series of workshops with Ann Wylie focused on effective writing for the web. Wylie is a professional writer by trade and a wordsmith by nature. For those who don’t know who Wylie is, just know she’s legit.
Wylie discussed how to overcome the challenges of writing for the web, where information is consumed much differently than in print. Screen sizes and fonts change from computer to computer and iPad to iPad. And because our mobile phones do everything but change our children’s diapers, readers are constantly distracted. Keeping them engaged is, well, tough.
For Wylie, writing for the web comes down to three keys: Be relevant. Be interesting. Be easy.
Readers expect a reward if they are going to take the time to click your link, like your page or share your information. Be helpful. Give the reader something relevant, insightful or useful. Give them content that is worthwhile. Share things like:
Did your company have a pancake feed? That’s incredible news. Except, we don’t care. Link me to the latest industry study instead of talking about yourself. And keep in mind that every link you provide readers gives them a choice to take their attention elsewhere, so choose those links carefully.
Be interesting while you’re at it. Don’t tweet like an infomercial; try and have a personality. For those of you without a personality, hopefully print becomes so outdated it actually becomes cool again.
Wylie also said it’s okay to be dramatic on the web. Push the verb in your communication and layer on the headlines to give more information in a small space.
Check out the FBI’s Twitter feed for a great example of offering quality content with a solid personality. It regularly fits a headline, subhead and lead-in in less than 140 characters. Short, but strong.
For us former print journalists – where paragraph after paragraph of endless information simply meant the story was just that good and should be held for the Sunday front – keeping it short can be tough. But give it a try. Web paragraphs, Wylie said, should never be longer than the length of your palm. This breaks up the text and keeps it simple for the reader – less scrolling and less distracting.
Also, break up text with bullets and subheads when possible to keep readers engaged. (Let’s face it – this blog post’s format already has a lot going for it. It’ll probably win an award at next year’s TOCA meeting.)
After you’ve finished writing, go back and cut the fluff and increase the facts. Get. To. The. Point.
Readers want online information given in chunks that they can easily scan, comprehend and finish so they can get back to the important stuff, like Facebooking about their dogs. Keep your message above the clutter – move the important information towards the top, break up your writing into chunks and cut the fluff.
Be relevant. Be interesting. Be easy. It’s that simple.
Now get back to Facebook. It’s been almost four minutes.